For Locutorreando’s second, Erika and Sam talked to Aimaloghi Eromosele, a local organizer and pre-med student who’s intent on opening up conversations on anti-blackness in our border culture. Read a transcript of a segment below or listen to the episode.
Sam: We’re going to be talking today with Aima about her research!
Aima: Yes, my research on outgroup knowledge of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) on social media and the implications.
Erika: Can I quickly ask what you did this research for?
Aima: I was assigned by my professor last semester to conduct a research project over anything involving linguistics—it was a linguistics class over humans and language so it was actually pretty big on, you know, not just… phenology and morphology of speaking but how it specifies to cultural groups. So, I thought this was a good thing to choose. But I kind of just choose it like, “What the fuck am I going to do it on?” and then I was like, “Oh well I’m very pro-black and I love debating things that kind of seem difficult.” But not like a devil’s advocate kind of annoying person – but just speaking up about things. It was a good crossroads so I just started the research. I made a quick 14 question survey and put it out on all my social medias – like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. It was basically to test people’s knowledge on “Ebonics” – I guess is a simpler way to say African American Vernacular English (AAVE).
Erika: For the folks who don’t know what AAVE is… What do you mean?
Aima: Sure. AAVE aka “Ebonics” is basically a dialect originated in the southern region of the United States way back when during the times of slavery. It has been debated for a long time as a– I guess you would say either “broken” English or a true dialect of its own. It’s basically a way that African Americans learn to speak and connect with one another. It was used widely all over the United States but it originated in the South. And as you can kind of tell, if you don’t think that you know “Ebonics” you’ve probably heard it or seen it somewhere. It’s literally in marketing strategies all the time. Watch McDonalds and they’re saying, “Yo!” and “ain’t” and “ooh ya’ll” and stuff like that. It’s pretty much everywhere right now. So basically I wanted to test people’s knowledge of it. I hypothesized that they would have a general understanding all across the board despite your race, or your age, or where you grew up because as I figured, it’s everywhere. But I conducted later research for the Engaged Scholar Symposium that took place this semester – and this was no longer a part of my class recourse. My teacher actually came to me saying “I think your research was very interesting so I wanted to follow up with that with you.” I felt pretty honored, kind of stressed out because it was a lot of work but it was exciting and I’m really glad I got to conduct it. So I created a Part 2, again with the survey, but this time it was more about people’s perception and their attitudes towards Ebonics which proved to be a lot more interesting, actually.
Erika: What did you find about folks’ knowledge of Ebonics down here in the Rio Grande Valley?
Aima: Mainly everyone who answered it was in the valley ‘cause that’s my scope. I think the overall was about like a 70 percent correct rate because there were right and wrong answers on that first survey. Generally, everybody had a really good understanding. If they didn’t it usually was people who were in the 55 and older range who would maybe be a little bit more out of touch with like pop culture kind of things where you see “Ebonics” being used a lot…
Sam: …or the internet.
Aima: Exactly. So you know they don’t even know what the fuck a web browser is. All in all – a lot of people knew “Ebonics” which didn’t surprise me. I knew they would. And I think it’s a general thing. Not that it’s exact. I think it’s historically seen that the paths that African Americans took in this country, or like the way they grew up is very similar to the way a lot of Latinx people grew up. So a lot of our cultures really, you know, interchange, so even for people in the valley who are surrounded by a lot of other Latinx people, they grew up hearing that kind of conversation too. They grew up hearing lots of slang terms and hearing that kind of “broken English.” So it didn’t surprise me and it kind of made me happy. I felt a little bit of a connection. Even the people who identified as white, they generally knew “Ebonics” as well. So it was a pretty high percentage of accuracy.
Erika: I wonder if it’s like all those folks from Tumblr. The only reason I know words that don’t originate here are because of Tumblr.
Aima: Right. I remember I made a status a while ago because my best friend, Aubrey, and I had seen something really funny, a super funny comment on Facebook and I won’t say what it was because I feel like people will know who it was so I’m not going to say it. We had seen something that was said by someone who I wouldn’t believe to speak like this, you know, in a face to face interaction, but online using all kinds of AAVE. I was like “god damn” like “Jesus!” And I remember I wrote a status, you know just a little shade. I was like, “It’s funny. Y’all be using Ebonics so heavily online but in person, you sound like Normal SpongeBob.” It doesn’t make any sense to me. It kind of fueled [the research] a little bit but I did take it seriously. And this person, who I’m done speaking about and shall not be named, they’re a great person. I’m just going to leave it at that.
Sam: I was so curious to how you came to want to do this research and I was like, you know what, someone tried. Someone on the internet from the valley tried something and not that it’s out of the blue. I feel a lot of people here do this.
Aima: Right. And actually, even going a little further about that status, I remember Kevin (Aima’s Facebook friend) had commented saying “Yeah, I definitely know what you’re talking about. I grew up in Georgia where there’s high percentage of black people and Latinx people and a smaller percentage of white people. I grew up hearing terms like “shade” and “tea” and you know “the gag” and what not. But now it’s all over social media and I feel like people are appropriating it and this that and the other.” And he’s not wrong. I don’t disagree with what he’s saying. However, I also know that the internet has a huge impact on how a lot of us, especially the younger generation, learned to speak and feel and react to things. We’re literally just all replicating each other. Whether you think you’re doing it or not, you kind of are. Unless you totally choose to close yourself off from that, then obviously, you don’t. Personally, I don’t think it’s right but I don’t really take too much offense seeing people speak with “Ebonics” online or even in person because a lot of it reflects… I mean, even though it’s created by black people for black people, a lot of it reflects where you’re from. Even the region you grew up in. If you grew up in the west coast or you know, often I guess the “hoods” or whatever, if you grew up in central New York or somewhere in deep Miami, you’re going to be hearing terms like this. If you’re online often, you’re going to be seeing terms like this. It’s going to be around you and you’re going to want to replicate it. That’s human nature. So I don’t take offense to that. I just thought, okay well this is interesting and I’d like to track it and document it and see what my results bring.
Erika: Was there something that super surprised you from your results? Because I know you mentioned the second part about perception.
Aima: The perception part actually did surprise me. The first part of my research was to be as expected but the second part was because it was a little bit more serious and it almost forces you to reflect on yourself and how you feel about things that people aren’t asking you on a daily basis. Not something as simple as “What’s your favorite color?” It’s “How do you feel about the n-word?” and “When do you feel like you should use it?” These are serious questions and hot topics. I mean, it’s always going to be a hot topic but, you know, right now in our political climate these things have been heightened and there’s a big thing about political correctness and things like that. So I think because the survey almost makes you feel a little insecure, the responses will almost be more vicious, like in terms of my results of asking “What sentence do you find to be more appealing?” There was a sentence posed in Ebonics and a sentence posed in Standard English and “Which sentence would you actually use and why?” For the people who choose the sentence in Standard English, a lot of them were giving mild responses. “Well it’s the way I speak,” and “Oh well it was easier for me to understand” or “I understood it better” this that and the other. But there were other people who said “If I heard someone speaking in AAVE I would think that they were uneducated” or “I would they think they’re retarded” or “It just sounds ghetto.” There was one response, I’m guessing it was a joke, it wasn’t a funny joke and they responded saying, “I would use sentence 2 because nowadays with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) group we need to be down with the n-words.” Whether it was a joke or they meant it seriously, it was uncalled for. But I never received responses like that, like from my first survey. I don’t know what would force you to respond with so much aggression and so much sarcasm, you just genuinely sound like a salty asshole.
Erika: Earlier you were mentioning folks who grew up listening to things depending on their neighborhood. So I sometimes teach students…or like in the past, and I hear people who are not black but like brown or just like Raza, who will say the n-word and I’ll be like, “Why are you saying that?” and they’re like “Oh I grew up in the hood” or “I heard it in the music that I listen to” but not from these hoods around here because nobody says that to each other. So what are you saying other than you really want to say this word and sound tough?
Sam: Right, and the parts that astound me most is when people write, especially like I’ve had these interactions with like young, brown men here. Who I’ll be like, “Why are you saying that?” and they’ll be like, “Oh it doesn’t mean that anymore, it means like bro or it means like friend” and I’m like no it doesn’t. It might not mean that to you but when you say that…
Aima: …Just because you believe something doesn’t make it suddenly true. It wasn’t a part of my major findings because I was very surprised about the sentence questions. I first asked people what they thought the n-word with the “ER” meant and what the n-word with the “a” at the end meant and if it’s only supposed to be used amongst black people, amongst friends and family or never at all. A lot of people generally understood that the “ER” was the old school and obviously currently racial slur and they acknowledged that the one with the “a” is a little bit more socially acceptable but it’s mainly supposed to be used amongst black people with other black people. But quite a few people actually said that they feel as though everyone could use it, the term is changing. But who are you to decide that? It was never applied to you. It doesn’t fall on your shoulders. Just because you think it’s fun and cool to say and you hear it everywhere because of online, in music, in the movies you watch – I know you want to emulate what you say but obviously there are exceptions and that’s a bad word. At least for you to use and even with the “ER” other black people are not saying that to other black people. That’s an insult all across the board. That insult is associated with whiplashing and death and something very disgustingly tragic in our history that you choose to forget because your favorite rapper said it in a song. And that’s not fair to me. If I choose to reclaim that word, that’s my right and my ancestors right because it was applied to us and in a way belongs to us.
Listen to the whole episode on iTunes, Sticher, or on our website.